How to Prune Fruit Trees to Keep Them Small

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Pruning fruit trees is an important part of keeping them small. If you don’t prune them, they can quickly become overgrown and difficult to manage. Here’s how to prune fruit trees to keep them small and under control.

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Pruning Basics

Pruning is a horticultural practice that alters the shape and growth of a plant. It involves the selective removal of certain parts of the plant, such as branches, buds, or roots. Pruning can be done for a variety of reasons, including to improve the plant’s health, to remove undesired growth, or to shape the plant.

Why prune fruit trees?

Pruning fruit trees helps maintain the size and shape of the tree. Trees that are not pruned regularly can become too large for the space they are in, making them difficult to manage and harvest. Pruning also helps encourage new growth, which can result in more fruit production. In addition, pruning removed diseased or damaged branches, which can help keep the tree healthy.

When to prune fruit trees

Most fruit trees are pruned while they are dormant, typically between late fall and early spring. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, pruning of grapes should take place right after harvest in the fall, while blueberries benefit from a late winter or early spring pruning. Check the specific requirements for your type of fruit tree before you begin.

In general, you should only prune fruit trees that are three years old or older. Younger trees do not need to be pruned and can actually be damaged by improper pruning. Do not prune trees that have been transplanted within the last two years, as they are still establishing their root systems and need all their energy to do so.

Pruning Techniques

Pruning is the act of removing branches, leaves, or buds from a plant. This can be done for a number of reasons, such as to remove diseased or dead tissue, to shape the plant, or to keep the plant from getting too big.


Topping is a pruning technique that involves cutting the main stem or leader of the tree. This encourages the growth of lateral branches, which results in a bushier tree. Topping should be done when the tree is young, as it can damage mature trees.Water sprouts, which are fast-growing shoots that grow from the trunk or branches of a tree, are often a result of topping.

Heading back

Heading back, also called heading cut, is the most common type of pruning and is often used on fruit trees. It is a method of cutting back the new growth of a plant to encourage more branching and a denser growth habit. The heading cut is made just above a bud, branch, or branchlet at a 45- to 60-degree angle.


Thinning means removing some of the fruit from a tree so that the remaining fruit can grow to its full potential. This is done when the fruit is about the size of a dime or nickel, and before it begins to color. You should thin fruit when the tree is young to encourage proper branching and to reduce the workload in later years. Thinning also prevents overcrowding, which can lead to smaller fruit and poorer air circulation, causing disease problems.

To thin, simply remove excess fruits, being careful not to damage any remaining ones. Fruits can be removed by hand or with pruning shears. (To learn how to properly sterilize your pruning tools, see “Fruit Tree Pruning Tips.”)

Pruning for Size

Pruning fruit trees is important to keep them the right size. If you don’t prune them, they will grow too large and produce too much fruit. Pruning also helps the tree to produce better fruit. There are a few things you need to know before you start pruning.

Selecting the right fruit tree

Most fruit trees are grafted, which means that the fruit-bearing portion of the tree (the scion) is attached to the rootstock of another tree. The rootstock controls the size of the tree. Therefore, if you want a smaller tree, you need to select one that has been grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock.

Planning your pruning

Pruning fruit trees is a regular chore in the home orchard, and one that is often neglected. Many fruit trees are simply allowed to grow unchecked, producing large, unwieldy branches that are difficult to reach when it comes time to harvest the fruit. Other trees are pruned so heavily that they produce little or no fruit. The key to successful pruning is to find a balance that allows the tree to produce a good crop of fruit while remaining manageable in size.

There are a few things to keep in mind when planning your pruning:
-The type of fruit tree you are growing will determine how much pruning it will need. Some varieties, such as apples and pears, require more pruning than others, such as cherries and plums.
-The age of the tree will also affect how much pruning it will need. Young trees should be pruned more heavily than mature trees.
-The climate you live in will also play a role in how much pruning your fruit trees will need. Warm climates may require less pruning than cooler climates.

Once you have considered these factors, you can begin to plan your pruning regime. Start by identifying the main goal of your pruning: is it to keep the tree small, encourage fruiting, or both? From there, you can develop a plan that includes both annual and periodic pruning.

Pruning for height

Pruning is a horticultural and arboricultural practice involving the selective removal of certain parts of a plant, such as branches, buds, or roots.

Pruning for width

When you prune for width, you’re essentially encouraging the tree to grow outwards, rather than upwards. This is done by cutting back the main shoots of the tree to just above a bud. You can do this with hand pruners or shears, but make sure to sterilize them before using them on the tree.

Pruning for width is generally only necessary if you want your tree to remain small. If you’re not worried about the size of the tree, you can simply allow it to grow naturally.

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About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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